With T20 leagues mushrooming all over the globe, multi-nation ODI tournaments are getting as redundant as Associate teams in terms of making it to the marquee events.
No wonder then that when the Asia Cup has come calling — with a six-team format including an Associate — hard-core cricket fanatics and connoisseurs alike will get a sense of deja vu.
India as ‘host’
But more than the fact that India — who will be hosting the event in the United Arab Emirates to ensure participation of all the Asian giants, read Pakistan — will feature in a competitive game in the Gulf after 12 long years, the focus for the Asia Cup will obviously be on two important issues: the prelude to next year’s World Cup and the fact that India and Pakistan are all set to feature at least twice, possibly thrice, over the next fortnight.
No doubt the scorching heat in the Gulf will not be similar to the conditions five of the six teams featuring in the Asia Cup, barring Hong Kong, will encounter in England for the World Cup in nine months. Still, the Asia Cup will, in a way, sound off the bugle for the final leg of preparations for the big-ticket even in 2019.
Gunathilaka out, Jayasuriya in
While all the five teams will hope to try out a few different combinations with an eye on the World Cup, India especially will be hoping to resolve the middle-order puzzle.
The fact that captain Virat Kohli has been rested to give him and his sore back some time off would mean Rohit Sharma, the captain for the tournament, will have two middle-order slots open. Ambati Rayudu, K.L. Rahul, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav and Dinesh Karthik — all of whom have been tried out in the over the last couple of years — will be hoping to first be presented with an opportunity and then make a strong case to book a ticket on the plane to England.
Irrespective of the combinations, the cricket fans, and the broadcaster whose attempts to advance start timings for suiting India’s television audience went in vain, will be eagerly awaiting India and Pakistan matches.
The two are placed in Group A along with Hong Kong, who won the qualifier tournament last week. The group stage will see Sharma’s sergeants taking on Sarfraz Ahmed’s Pakistan on Wednesday.
And, unless Hong Kong eliminates either of the two giants, the two teams will square off yet again on September 23 in the Super 4 stage.
But considering the fact that India, having finished an arduous and disappointing tour of England barely a few days ago, will start its tournament only on September 18, the focus for the time being will be on the other group, consisting of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
It will be interesting to see if Sri Lanka and Bangladesh can leave behind them the distasteful events of their last meeting during Saturday’s opener at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.
In the Nidahas Trophy in March, the teams were involved in an ugly spat that overshadowed a thrilling finish.
Who will rule Asia?
The 14th edition of the Asia Cup begins in the UAE on Saturday. A brief look into the history of the tournament.
>> The inaugural edition was played in 1984 at Sharjah, UAE
>> Except the 2016 edition which was a T20 tournament, the others were ODIs. The formats will keep alternating, with the current edition being a 50-over tournament.
>> Sri Lanka is the only team to have played in all editions. India skpped the event in Sri lanka in 1986 while Pakistan not travel to India in 1990-91.
>> India has emerged champion the most number of times – 6 (five in ODIs and one in T20s)
Group A: India, Pakistan, Hong Kong
Group B: Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh
September 15: Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka
September 16: Pakistan vs Hong Kong
September 17: Sri Lanka vs Afghanistan
September 18: India vs Hong Kong
September 19: India vs Pakistan
September 20: Bangladesh vs Afghanistan
September 21: Group A winnere vs Group B runner-up
September 21: Group B winner vs Group A runner-up
September 23: Group A winner vs Group A runner-up
September 23: Group B Winner vs Group B runner-up
September 25: Group A winner vs Group Bwinner
September 26: Group A runner-up vs Group B runner-up
September 28: Finals
India: Rohit Sharma (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Ambati Rayudu, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Shardul Thakur, Dinesh Karthik, Khaleel Ahmed.
Pakistan: Sarfraz Ahmed (captain and wk), Fakhar Zaman, Shan Masood, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Imam-ul-Haq, Asif Ali, Shadab Khan, Mohammed Nawaz, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Mohammed Amir, Shoaib Malik, Junaid Khan, Usman Khan, Shaheen Afridi.
Bangladesh: Mashrafe Mortaza (captain), Tamim Iqbal, Litton Kumar Das, Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), Mahmudullah Riyadh, Mominul Haque, Ariful Haque, Mohammed Mithun, Mustafizur Rahman, Rubel Hossain, Mehidy Hasan Miraz, Mosaddek Hossain, Nazmul Islam, Nazmul Hossain Shanto, Abu Hider Rony.
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (captain), Kusal Perera, Kusal Mendis, Upul Tharanga, Thisara Perera, Niroshan Dickwella, Dhananjaya de Silva, Dasun Shanaka, Kasun Rajitha, Akila Dananjaya, Amila Aponso, Lasith Malinga, Dushmantha Chameera, Dilruwan Perera, Shehan Jayasuriya.
Afghanistan: Ashgar Afghan (captain), Mohammed Shahzad, Ihsanullah Janat, Hasmatullah Shahidi, Najibullah Zadran, Munir Ahmed, Javed Ahmadi, Mohammed Nabi, Rahmat Shah, Gulbadan Naib, Samiullah Shenwari, Sharafuddin Ashraf, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Zadran, Aftab Alam, Yasmin Ahmedzai, Sayed Shirzad.